Advice to Gov. Sununu: An Independent Redistricting Commission Would Be Good for NH

HB 706 would establish an independent redistricting commission and is intended to reduce or eliminate the contentious and partisan atmosphere that has surrounded previous, post-census redistricting efforts. The bill is now before the Governor for his approval or veto.

I served on the Election Law Subcommittee that worked on HB 706 and was pleased that our efforts received support from the Committee and was recommended as Ought to Pass with Amendment on a bipartisan, 20 – 0 Committee vote.  Although most House Republicans voted against the bill, it passed by a margin of 218 – 123. The bill then went to the Senate where it came out of committee with a bipartisan, 5 – 0 vote recommending Ought to Pass with further amendment, and passed the Senate by a voice vote. The House concurred with the Senate amendment by a vote of 208 – 137.

The following Opinion piece in support of HB 706 appeared in the NH Union Leader (July 25, 2019) and was submitted by Bradford Cook, a Manchester attorney, a Republican and chair of the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission, and John T. Broderick Jr., a former N.H. Supreme Court justice and former executive director of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy. It is an effective explanation, as the article’s headline stated, as to “Why HB 706 is good for New Hampshire”:

“That’s all we’re asking for: an end to the antidemocratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering congressional districts . . . The fact is, gerrymandering has become a national scandal.” — President Ronald Reagan

‘GERRYMANDERING’ wasn’t a word most voters knew much about a year ago. But Ronald Reagan was right — it has been a scandal for years, and it has been getting progressively worse. Extreme cases of voting district manipulation by both parties in congressional districts in North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania brought it to the public’s attention, culminating in a Supreme Court case last month.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear egregious cases of gerrymandering by Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in North Carolina, instead suggesting that legislation by the states should be one of the paths to fixing this widespread problem.

While New Hampshire is not as extreme as those cases, and is lucky in having two congressional districts which have been “swing districts” for years, it is not immune from partisan efforts to manipulate the voting districts to the advantage of the party in power. We have, after all, 24 state senate districts, 400 legislators, and five executive councilors in addition to our members of Congress.

The New Hampshire Constitution empowers the legislature to redistrict, but the last effort in 2010 was so contentious and partisan that it took two years and a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision to settle. And still the districts were awkward at best, and unfairly drawn at worst.

Executive Council District 2, bordering three states, is the most commonly cited example, stretching from Hinsdale, in extreme southwest New Hampshire, to Portsmouth in the east. It has been cited as an example of “packing” a district so that other districts would be more reliable for one party. How was this map created? We have no idea, because the process was secret from the voters and from the Secretary of State — all perfectly legal by current New Hampshire statute.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the New Hampshire legislature had already crafted three bills this term addressing gerrymandering and fair redistricting, responding to demands by the voters. The HB 706 nonpartisan redistricting commission bill not only survived, but passed by significant bipartisan margins in its House and Senate committees and in full sessions.

The commission would be comprised of 15 commissioners: Five Republicans, five Democrats, and five independents and minority party members. The commission is empaneled similar to a jury, with the major parties able to object to each other’s nominees. The commission must conduct its business in public, and must hold at least one public hearing in each county prior to and after proposed maps are drawn. And after public scrutiny, the maps are submitted to the legislature to execute its constitutional obligation.

The New Hampshire way: Bipartisan, fair and above board.

As a practical political matter, with the swings in control of the legislature in recent years, each party should recognize the protection such a process has for it against a partisan effort by the legislature, if controlled by the other party.

Governor Sununu, we ask that you sign HB 706.

It would be good for Republicans, good for Democrats, level the playing field, and make New Hampshire a shining example to other states on how to improve the political process and faith in it.”

There is some common ground (on NH’s state budget), but it’s all on hold until a compromise is reached

The following policy piece appeared in the July 19 – August 1, 2019 edition of the New Hampshire Business Review and was written by Anna Brown, director of research and analysis for Citizens Count, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit (CitizensCount.org):

“It’s true that zero Republicans voted for the budget recently vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, but there’s more common ground than you may think.  While Democratic legislators and the governor disagree on business tax rates, school funding, and how to spend surplus money, here are some of the priorities they agree on.

Mental health funding.  The Legislature and the governor both want to increase funding for mental health services in the state.  For example, both their budgets included funding for 40 more transitional housing ends for mental health patients and a new treatment facility for children.  Legislators and the governor also agree on funding a new secure psychiatric unit, although the Legislature scaled down the size of the proposal.  This would end New Hampshire’s practice of housing potentially dangerous mental health patients in the state prison.

Developmentally disabled waitlist.  In his budget address, Governor Sununu got a big round of applause when he said his budget eliminated the outlets for developmental disability services.  The Legislature’s budget also planned to eliminate the waitlist.

Recreation and tourism.  The Legislature and the governor both want to increase funding for the Division of Travel and Tourism, for everything from rest areas to marketing.  Both budgets also increased how much the Fish and Game department would et from the general fund of all tax dollars.  For many years that department has had to rely heavily on income from hunting licenses, boating licenses, and other fees, and has struggled to pay its bills.

Public safety.  Although there was some debate over whether the state will be able to find people to fill the positions, the governor and Legislature want to fund more child protection service workers.  Both budgets also increased funding for the Cold Case Unit, including a new attorney in the Department of Justice to work on cold cases.  The New Hampshire Department of Justice website lists 129 unsolved death and missing person cases.

E-cigarettes.  The governor and Legislature both want to tax e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products.  Using Pennsylvania’s tax as a model, the Department of Revenue Administration estimates the change will generate about $7 million a year for the state.

Association health plans.  The federal government recently changed regulations to allow businesses to join together through trade and professional associations to purchase health insurance.  The governor and Legislature both included language in their budgets to regulate these ‘association health plans.’

What’s next for these priorities?  Even though everyone agrees on the priorities listed above, they’re tied to the rest of the state budget, which means they’re on hold until the Legislature and governor forge a budget compromise.  If negotiations go well this summer, expect to see these priorities become law in October.”

 

Seacoastonline Editorial: Governor’s Budget Veto Will Prove a Mistake

Seacoastonline.com Editorial (June 29, 2019)

“In 2011, the Republican House and Senate presented Democratic Gov. John Lynch with a budget he strongly opposed, but he allowed it to become law without his signature.

‘In considering whether to veto the budget bills or allow them to become law, I have two major considerations: Could a veto result in a better budget for the people of New Hampshire, and what are the potential consequences of a veto for our people,’ Lynch explained.

Lynch quickly realized vetoing the budget would do more damage than good and he did what was right for the people of New Hampshire and let it become law.

This is the path Gov. Chris Sununu should have taken after he received the $13.3 billion two-year operating budget approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate. Instead, late Friday afternoon he vetoed it.

In our view, vetoing the budget will not result in any improvements. In fact, a veto reopens the entire process and could result in Democrats reintroducing their top priorities of paid family medical leave and modifying the capital gains tax, which they removed after Sununu said he would veto the budget if those two items were included.

Far more important, we believe delaying implementation of the many excellent measures contained in this budget, which Sununu agrees with almost entirely, hurts all the people of New Hampshire; its most vulnerable citizens struggling with physical and mental health challenges, families in crisis, property taxpayers begging for some relief, school districts starved of resources, even the very businesses Sununu said he is trying to help.

Sununu said he vetoed the budget because it does not authorize a third reduction in four years of business profits and business enterprise taxes. The state has already implemented two rounds of business tax cuts, which have resulted in New Hampshire having the lowest business tax rates in New England.

Democratic budget writers believed if they compromised on their two top priorities, family medical leave and the capital gains tax modifications, Sununu would compromise and agree to freeze the third round of business tax cuts. But he dug in on the business tax cuts, despite the budget’s many other benefits to the state’s businesses.

While businesses are happy to receive tax cuts, many told a commission studying business taxes in 2014 that their priorities when considering whether to expand or relocate are energy costs, an educated workforce, transportation and the overall cost of doing business.

Businesses also asked for, and received, reforms in this budget that put the state tax code in conformity with the federal code and prevent double taxation on services performed in New Hampshire for out-of-state clients. These tax reforms will also be delayed because of Sununu’s veto.

In recent decades, budget vetoes have not worked out well for New Hampshire governors.

In 2015, we were critical of Gov. Maggie Hassan when she vetoed the budget presented to her by a Republican-controlled Legislature for the same sorts of thin, partisan reasoning Sununu used to justify his veto. Then, as now, we wrote: ‘New Hampshire would have been better served had the governor let the budget become law without her signature…’

Hassan vetoed the budget, delaying funding for vital services such as opioid addiction treatment and recovery. In the end, the business taxes she cited to justify her veto remained in the budget and Hassan’s credibility was badly damaged.

If Sununu wants more evidence that vetoing reasonable budgets hurts governors, he can look to a Republican predecessor, Gov. Craig Benson, who made a big show of vetoing the budget created by his fellow Republicans in June 2003, going so far as to create a giant veto stamp and holding a press conference to crow about it.

‘A mere two months later Benson cut and ran, by signing into law a budget that contained even higher spending than the budget he had vetoed,’ wrote the New Hampshire Business Review.

Benson was also the first governor since 1926 not to be re-elected to a second term.

Our bipartisan editorial board has twice endorsed Sununu and we believe he truly wants what’s best for the state, which is why we cannot understand his veto. His veto message is a generic political statement that sheds no light.

We urge the governor to work in good faith with the Legislature to end this budget impasse as quickly as possible. That course of action is not just good politics, it’s what’s best for the people of New Hampshire.